Caterers are zhushing up traditional desserts by combining them with ice-cream and cream in modern, unusual flavours. Ian Boughton samples the latest creations
It is nothing new for caterers to take a base product, finish it off with their own special touch and present it as a house ‘special', but can this be done with desserts?
from chocolate to hot drinks.
Brakes is encouraging the same idea. Its fig and pistachio cheesecake with a honey-infused biscuit base is 'something unexpected' on a menu, as is its banoffee cheesecake and its berry meringue pie, a sweet baked pastry case with blackberry filling and a light meringue topping.
Mark Rigby, executive chef at Premier Foods, says 40% of British consumers eat dessert after a meal twice a week or more, so there are useful tactics to tempt
customers to trade up. Mini versions of popular puddings will encourage a party to order a few different options for everyone to share and this, with a choice of
ice-cream flavours or custards, becomes a profitable sale.
Unexpected combinations also work well - Angel Delight is popular with children, but combining it with natural yogurt and fresh fruit creates one of their 'five a day' and makes it much more acceptable to adults.
Let them eat cake
The cake has turned into an unexpected star of the modern dessert. Look at what McDonald's, Pizza Hut and several other high-street names have done with confectionery bars, says Andrew Ely, managing director of Almondy, the Swedish almond cake maker.
The McDonald's McFlurry comes with Crunchie or Smarties, Pizza Hut has Munchies ice-cream, and smoothie bars will blend any confectionery bar into a drink. Almondy cakes are traditionally a standalone slice of cake, but they can be crumbled over ice-cream to form a sundae which will appeal to the whole family. This is significant - Almondy's own research says that customers are 22% more likely to eat desserts when out with their children.
The most unexpected bakery items can turn into a dessert. Lantmannen, which supplies readyglazed pastries and viennoiserie, suggests that a Danish pastry can become a dessert when it is topped with sticky sauces or ice-cream.
"Our apple and custard lattice and our raspberry and custard lattice are particularly delicious with ice-cream," says marketing manager Rachel Shoosmith.
"There are a great range of sauces which would hit the mark with pastries, such as a toffee sauce, salted caramel, maple vanilla, hot fudge, a berry coulis or Madagascan vanilla custard. You could add a sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts or toasted pecans to add some crunch," she says.
Erlenbacher invented the 'cakewich', a triangular, flat sponge portion as a takeaway 'eat in the hand' product, and it is proud of its status as an innovator. It recently invented several 'base' products, designed to be finished off by the caterer. These include a sponge base topped with fudge or a rich double-cream cheesecake mix. Neither look very interesting on their own, but they are 'semifinalised' products to which the chef can add a topping and produce a speciality cheesecake.
Three of Erlenbacher's most popular cakes are now available in individual servings, called Sunshine Cakes. These cakes are baked and presented in octagonal cardboard packaging and are sold as a takeaway cake, a snack with coffee or the basis for a full dessert. The Sponge company of Norfolk makes sponge cakes in many different flavours and it has created a range of baby sponges. The cakes are identical to their larger versions, with the same fillings, but just a couple of inches high. It's a labour-intensive item and an attention-getter when served on its own or with ice-cream.
Another adaptable dessert, says Suncream Dairies, is sorbet. It is suitable for gluten-free, eggfree and vegetarian diets and, like diabetic, low-fat ice-cream, which once had its main market in care homes, it appeals to diabetics and coeliacs.
Managing director Rebecca Manfredi says a mango sorbet works well as a palate-cleanser or refresher between courses and it provides an authentic addition to
ethnic menus and spicier dishes.
Julia Jones, head of marketing for MÁ¶venpick, says this year has seen a change in the format in desserts and that the introduction of smaller, more delicate plates has encouraged sharing.
"There has also been a revival of 'old-fashioned' desserts with a modern twist, such as banana split, ice-cream sundaes and jelly for adults," she adds. "Ice-cream has moved away from being a secondary component to an integral part of dishes, as in baked Alaska or affogato. It is strong enough to stand as the
principal point or the equal to another component, such as strawberry ice-cream with lemon and lime sorbet and a small, decorative fruit salad.
"In 2015, we expect the appeal of sharing plates to continue, with an increase in the number of 'sharers' from two or three to six. We anticipate a continued focus on aesthetics, with some less traditional serving dishes, such as slate, being used."
While street food is already a trend, the desserts market has yet to prosper from it. Following the decline of ice-cream vans, there is the opportunity for a new wave of street food, such as ice-cream with waffles and pancakes.
The pudding club
A curiosity of the dessert sector, says Kerrymaid brand manager Grace Keenan, is that while a rising number of customers are ordering dessert, it is still only
20% of total food orders. So tactics that draw attention to dessert become important - and a successful one was the recent 'pudding club' at the Old Wine Vaults, a pub in Faversham in Kent.
The team served recipes featuring Kerrymaid cream alternatives and custards devised by TV chef and food writer Sophie Wright.
The menu featured Gooseberry Fumble, Blackberry and Mixed Spice Baked Cheesecake and Custard and Strawberry Puff Pastry Slice. The project worked.
The evening was a sell-out in an otherwise quiet period and it highlighted some useful lessons.
Among Kerry's various findings were that 36% of consumers said they were more likely to order dessert if a mini option was available, and that the pairing of a
pudding with a selected dessert wine drove revenue up.
Unusual ice-cream flavours
Are consumers imaginative when it comes to new flavours or do they stick with their old favourites? Avril Owton, owner of the Cloud hotel in Brockenhurst, Hampshire, who serves New Forest Ice Cream, says: "Our customer base is quite elderly and the more unusual flavours are most popular. Our best-sellers are ginger, Turkish delight, coffee crunch and coconut. If we offer three scoops of ice-cream, a customer will usually have two scoops of vanilla and make the third something out of the ordinary.
"New Forest tells us of new flavours, and the company has an open day, which is where I discovered Turkish delight and mojito sorbet - I was apprehensive about that, but it was very refreshing."
Christina Veal, director at New Forest Ice Cream, believes in presenting a dedicated dessert menu, which her own research among pub and restaurant
clients has shown can increase uptake by 25%. Unexpected matches are also attractive, such as clotted cream ice-cream with chocolate cake or liquorice ice-cream with a citrus cheesecake.
"Our liquorice and ginger flavours are successful on sophisticated menus aimed at 'foodies'. Years of flavour development have taught us that customers aren't afraid to try something new," she says.
"If your staff can talk to customers about the dessert options, customers are always more likely to consider it."
â¢ Almondy www.almondy.com/en
•Funnybones Foodservice www.funnybones.co.uk
•New Forest Ice Cream www.newforesticecreamltd.co.uk
•Premier Foods www.premierfoods.co.uk